Jul 072012

Few people in public life ever stray from the three-by-five card of approved opinion. On those rare occasions when they do, a macabre ritual of clarifications, retractions, and apologies – a veritable liturgy of expiation – invariably follows. Forgive me, for I have contradicted the holy mainstream. Never again shall I stray from the Biden-to-Romney spectrum.

The world changed on May 15, 2007. Someone strayed from Establishment opinion, and then not only declined to do penance, but actually stood his ground and refused to be intimidated into silence.

That day, in a Republican presidential debate, Ron Paul said things Americans were not supposed to hear about their government’s foreign policy. When Rudy Giuliani demanded a retraction, Dr. Paul wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. He instead pressed his point even harder.

Jon Arden, a regular American who happened to be watching, was instantly converted to the Paul cause.

Ron Paul, without a friend in the world, nothing but hostility aimed at him from all directions, stood his ground and did not back down. Just reiterated his points even stronger. I was blown away. I felt at that moment that the world changed forever, that here had been this massive shift in reality and what could happen.

It wouldn’t be the last such moment. In a GOP debate in Florida of all places, Ron Paul said the U.S. government should normalize trade relations with Cuba. In a South Carolina debate he stuck by his guns on the drug war. At a meeting of an Arab-American association, he was asked if he had a special speech tailored to their group. No, he said. It would be the same speech he gives everywhere.

That’s who Ron Paul is.

Why did he do these things? Why didn’t he take the path of least resistance by speaking in slogans and taking no political risks?

One reason is obvious: he’s an honest man.

The other reason may not be so obvious: he was seeking out the Remnant.

Once in a while we hear Ron Paul speak of the Remnant – how he’s been trying to find it, speak to it, build it up. What does he mean by it?

He’s referring to “Isaiah’s Job,” a famous essay by Albert Jay Nock. In that essay, Nock borrowed the example of the prophet Isaiah to describe the task of the honest man in public life. (I think the example of Elijah is a bit closer to what Nock had in mind, but that’s not the point.)

Listen as Nock adapts the Lord’s instructions to Isaiah into a modern vernacular:

“Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don’t mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you,” He added, “that it won’t do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.”

Isaiah had not been reluctant to take on his divinely appointed task, but when it was put to him like that, it seemed like a fruitless task indeed. What was the point of embarking on a mission that was doomed to failure?

“Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”

And that’s what Dr. Paul has been doing. He’s been looking for this heretofore invisible Remnant, giving them comfort, making them aware of themselves, providing them a rallying point. Selling out for the sake of mainstream respectability would defeat his purpose entirely. Those approaches repel the Remnant, Nock said. On the other hand, the truth teller who appeals to the Remnant will find them.

To be sure, Ron Paul has wanted to make his message as appealing to as many people as possible. He never gratuitously drives anyone away. But he has accomplished this task not by the usual method, which is to water down the message according to focus-group results. He has simply explained himself, boldly and without retreat.

And thus Nock:

[Isaiah] preached to the masses only in the sense that he preached publicly. Anyone who liked might listen; anyone who liked might pass by. He knew that the Remnant would listen; and knowing also that nothing was to be expected of the masses under any circumstances, he made no specific appeal to them, did not accommodate his message to their measure in any way, and did not care two straws whether they heeded it or not. As a modern publisher might put it, he was not worrying about circulation or about advertising. Hence, with all such obsessions quite out of the way, he was in a position to do his level best, without fear or favor, and answerable only to his august Boss.

A lot of people, possibly even the majority, don’t want their worldviews challenged. They want endless goodies. They want checks with their names on them. They want to be flattered. They want: “You are the awesomest of the awesome, and that’s why your government is hated around the world. Because of your awesomeness.”

Someone at this level of moral and intellectual development is not going to understand Ron Paul, much less support him.

It is frustrating and fruitless to appeal to such people, says Nock.

They ask you to give them what they want, they insist upon it, and will take nothing else; and following their whims, their irrational changes of fancy, their hot and cold fits, is a tedious business, to say nothing of the fact that what they want at any time makes very little call on one’s resources of prophesy. The Remnant, on the other hand, want only the best you have, whatever that may be. Give them that, and they are satisfied; you have nothing more to worry about.

Ron Paul has had so much fundraising success because the Remnant had rarely if ever been sought out by a presidential candidate before. Here was a man of intelligence who defied all political convention, taught the public about things they didn’t even realize they should be interested in, and could boast a record of consistency that impressed even the most hardened cynic. That got their attention.

Nock had things mostly right, but I would amend his presentation just a bit. He appeared to speak as if the Remnant were a fixed number of people. They might be sought out, but that’s it. Dr. Paul has shown that the Remnant can be increased, not just found and inspired. Dr. Paul’s commitment to the truth, even when it seemed to yield him only grief, seized the attention of a great many apathetic Americans, and added them to the ranks of the Remnant.

Nock further described the task of finding the Remnant as a largely thankless one, a job for which one would search in vain for tangible results.

In any given society the Remnant are always so largely an unknown quantity…. You do not know, and will never know, who the Remnant are, nor what they are doing or will do. Two things you do know, and no more: First, that they exist; second, that they will find you. Except for these two certainties, working for the Remnant means working in impenetrable darkness.

Nock lived before the Internet. Ron Paul now knows who the Remnant are. He has a sense of their numbers. He knows some of the things they’re doing. He knows he has had an impact. Nock didn’t think this was possible. In his day, it wasn’t.

Today we live at a moment of opportunity none of us could have imagined a generation ago. A revolution in information transmission is under way. Anyone can express his ideas before the whole world. All of a sudden, ideas, books, and people shunned by the Biden-to-Romney spectrum can get a worldwide hearing. Next to this, Gutenberg looks like a lazy bum.

Ron Paul did his job. He found and built up the Remnant. And there, rather than in the fleeting passage of legislation, is where genuine, long-term change will emerge.

Author-Thomas E. Woods, Jr.,  a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, is the creator of Tom Woods’s Liberty Classroom, a libertarian educational resource. He is the author of eleven books, including the New York Times bestsellers Meltdown (on the financial crisis; read Ron Paul’s foreword) and The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, and most recently Nullification and Rollback.

Copyright © 2012 Thomas Woods

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